United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Florence Division
BRYAN HARWELL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
a negligence action arising out of an automobile collision
between the parties. This matter is before the Court on
Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment. See ECF
No. 26. For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants in
part and denies in part the motion.
August 18, 2015, Plaintiff, Peter Wood, and Defendant,
Melissa Fanslau, were driving southbound on Interstate 95
through Dillon County, South Carolina in their respective
vehicles. Pl.'s Mot. for Summ. J. at 1; Compl. at ¶
7 [ECF No. 1-1]; Answer at ¶ 7 [ECF No. 1-2]. Plaintiff
alleges that Defendant made an improper lane change in her
2013 Hyundai sedan, striking Plaintiff's 2014 Volvo
tractor-trailer and injuring Plaintiff. Compl. at
does not deny that her vehicle collided with Plaintiff's.
Fanslau Dep. at 17:7-17 [ECF No. 26-3]. However, she does not
recall the accident and believes she lost consciousness
during or prior to the collision due to a medical condition.
Def.'s Mem. in Opp'n at 1 [ECF No. 27]; Fanslau Dep.
at 7:12-16, 10:5-15. The collision was witnessed by another
driver, Jerome Watson, as he traveled behind the parties.
Watson Dep. at 5:15-6:24, 10:15-17 [ECF No. 26-1]. In his
deposition, Watson states that Defendant traveled in the left
lane directly in front of him while Plaintiff traveled in the
right lane. Watson Dep. at 5:17-6:4, 10:11-14. The parties do
not dispute the respective positions of their vehicles before
the collision. Wood Dep. at 22:19-22 [ECF Nos. 26-2 &
27-1]; Fanslau Dep. at 17:12-17. Watson states he observed
Defendant attempt to move into the right lane, misjudge the
speed of Plaintiff's tractor-trailer, and contact the
left two wheels of Plaintiff's tractor-trailer, causing
significant damage. Watson Dep. at 5:15-6:12; 7:6-8. In
Plaintiff's deposition, he recounts the collision from
the impact but did not observe the moments leading up to the
collision. Wood Dep. at 16:10-17:10. Defendant disputes
Watson's version of the collision, stating in her
deposition that she believes she was in her lane of travel
when the collision occurred. Fanslau Dep. at 17:18-21.
Otherwise, she has no recollection of the actual collision
due to her loss of consciousness. Fanslau Dep. at 18:2-13.
Plaintiff also stated in his deposition that immediately
after the accident, Defendant told him she had fallen asleep.
Wood Dep. at 22:11-15.
17, 2017, Plaintiff filed suit against Defendant in the South
Carolina Court of Common Pleas for Dillon County, bringing a
cause of action for “negligence/gross negligence,
” seeking actual and punitive damages for “pain
and suffering; medical expenses; trauma; loss of enjoyment of
life; lost wages; permanent impairment; annoyance and
inconvenience and travel and other damages[.]” Compl.
at 2-3. In her answer, Defendant raises several defenses,
including: (1) comparative negligence; (2) unexpected
emergency; and (3) unavoidable accident. Answer at
¶¶ 15-20. On October 11, 2017, Defendant timely
removed the case to federal court under diversity
jurisdiction. See Notice of Removal [ECF No. 1]. On
July 10, 2018, Plaintiff filed the instant motion for summary
judgment. On July 24, 2018, Defendant filed a response in
opposition, and on July 31, 2018, Plaintiff filed a reply
thereto. [ECF No. 28]. The matter is now ripe for the
judgment is appropriate when no genuine issue of material
fact exists and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a
matter of law. Reyazuddin v. Montgomery Cty., Md.,
789 F.3d 407, 413 (4th Cir. 2015); see Fed. R. Civ.
P. 56(a) (“The court shall grant summary judgment if
the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any
material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a
matter of law.”). The moving party has the burden of
showing “there is an absence of evidence to support the
nonmoving party's case.” Celotex Corp. v.
Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). Once the movant
makes this showing, the opposing party must “go beyond
the pleadings” to evince “specific facts showing
. . . a genuine issue for trial.” Id. at 324.
A genuine issue of material fact-one “that might affect
the outcome of the suit”-exists if, in viewing the
record and all reasonable inferences drawn in a light most
favorable to the non-moving party, a reasonable fact-finder
could return a verdict for the non-movant. Anderson v.
Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The
non-moving party is required to submit evidence of specific
facts by way of affidavits, depositions, interrogatories, or
admissions to demonstrate the existence of a genuine and
material factual issue for trial. Celotex, 477 U.S.
at 322. “[A]ll that is required is that sufficient
evidence supporting the claimed factual dispute be shown to
require a jury or judge to resolve the parties' differing
versions of the truth at trial.” Anderson, 477
U.S. at 249 (citation omitted). However, “the mere
existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties
will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for
summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine
issue of material fact.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at
Court should determine “whether the evidence presents a
sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or
whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a
matter of law. Id. at 251-52. The Court should not
grant summary judgment “unless the entire record shows
a right to judgment with such clarity as to leave no room for
controversy and establishes affirmatively that the adverse
party cannot prevail under any circumstances.”
Campbell v. Hewitt, Coleman & Assocs, Inc., 21
F.3d 52, 55 (4th Cir. 1994) (citation omitted). In ruling on
a motion for summary judgment, the Court must not resolve
disputed facts, weigh the evidence, Russell v. Microdyne
Corp., 65 F.3d 1229, 1239 (4th Cir. 1995) (citation
omitted), or make determinations of credibility. Sosebee
v. Murphy, 797 F.2d 179, 182 (4th Cir. 1986). Inferences
“drawn from the underlying facts . . . must be viewed
in the light most favorable to the party opposing the
motion.” United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369
U.S. 654, 655 (1962) (per curiam).
moves for summary judgment as to: (1) the issues of duty and
breach, leaving proximate cause and damages for the jury; (2)
Defendant's second defense of comparative negligence; (3)
Defendant's third defense of unexpected emergency; and
(4) Defendant's fourth defense of unavoidable accident.
Pl.'s Mot. for Summ. J. at 1. In other words, Plaintiff
asks the Court to definitively rule-prior to trial-first, in
his favor on two of the four elements of his negligence/gross
negligence claim, and second, to rule against Defendant on
three of her defenses, challenging the evidentiary
sufficiency of the defenses.
Duty and Breach
South Carolina, to prevail on a negligence claim, a plaintiff
must prove: (1) a legal duty owed by the defendant to the
plaintiff; (2) a breach of that duty by a negligent act or
omission; (3) the breach was the actual and proximate cause
of the plaintiff's injury; and (4) damages sustained by
the plaintiff. Andrade v. Johnson, 588 S.E.2d 588,
592 (S.C. 2003) (citation omitted). Gross
negligence-“the failure to exercise slight
care”-“is a relative term, and means the absence
of care that is necessary under the circumstances.”
Doe v. Greenville Cnty. Sch. Dist., 651 S.E.2d 305,
309 (S.C. 2007) (citations omitted). It is synonymously
defined as “the intentional, conscious failure to do
something which it is incumbent upon one to do or the doing
of a thing intentionally that one ought not to do.”
Id. (citation omitted).
negligence action, “[t]he existence of a duty owed is a
question of law” for the Court to decide. Houck v.
State Farm Fire & Cas. Ins. Co., 620 S.E.2d 326, 329
(S.C. 2005) (citations omitted). In the context of an
automobile collision, “[p]arties have a duty to keep a
reasonable lookout to avoid hazards on the highway.”
Fettler v. Gentner, 722 S.E.2d 26, 29 (S.C. Ct. App.
2012) (citing Thomasko v. Poole, 561 S.E.2d 597, 599
(S.C. 2002)). “Each driver must exercise due care under
the circumstances.” Id. (citing Still v.
Blake, 177 S.E.2d 469, 474 (S.C. 1970)); see
also S.C. Code § 56-5-1520 (“A person shall
not drive a vehicle on a highway at a speed greater than is
reasonable and prudent under the conditions and having regard
to the actual and potential hazards then existing.”).
When resolving issues of negligence and comparative
negligence arising out of a collision between vehicles
traveling in the same direction, the South Carolina Supreme
Court has “held that a leading vehicle has no absolute
legal position superior to that of the one following.”
Id. (citing Still, 177 S.E.2d at 473-74).
Generally, “the driver of the leading vehicle is
required to make reasonable observations under the
circumstances to determine that the particular movement of
his vehicle, such as turning, ...